Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Be Adorned, a love affair with vintage costume jewelry.

Costume jewelry by Coro, from the 1956-57 Fall Winter Montgomery Ward catalogue

I have an early memory. My grandmother's top drawer...a whisper of powdery perfume. On tip toes I carefully remove an old cardboard candy box and quietly sit. The cover comes off to reveal treasure. Strands of crystal and pearl, festive beads and jeweled brooches. A trove of earring pairs, in all shapes and sizes. This covert act has been carried out countless times, always with the same results, pure awe and delight. I fill my eyes but never touch, that might lead to discovery and I am without a doubt, in forbidden territory. Moments pass and soon the candy box is safely back in it's rightful place.

Since I can remember I have loved costume jewelry. My grandmothers modest collection was my first exposure. I bought MY very first piece at the age of 11. There was a little shop in our downtown that carried all kinds of accessories. This was the mid 60s and large showy rings were popular. In the front case was a whole tray full, $1 each......rhinestone and filigree in every color... but my favorite was a lithographed glass cabochon with a Fragonard-esque scene. The setting was heavily detailed in antique "gold". I remember the amused smile on the lips of the sales lady as she adjusted my purchase to fit. Later in my teen years I discovered "junk" shops. Nicer than the flea market but not as expensive as an antique store. This is when my serious collecting began. Every junk shop had a display case of used or vintage costume jewelry. Brooches became my favorite and to this day I still wear some of the fabulous pieces I acquired way back when.

At that time I knew nothing about signed costume jewelry but quality always stood out, so by default I ended up with some very collectible pieces. Times have changed and demand has skyrocketed, the public is much more knowledgeable than before so it is difficult to find rare and valuable vintage costume for short money. You can however pick up high quality unsigned pieces at reasonable cost. Most folks, like me, who buy to wear are more interested in the look rather than the name. Some of my favorite pieces are unsigned. Quality on the other hand is always important. Better rhinestones and crystals with sharp facets can be spotted from across the room. If rhinestones are prong set, all the better. Hand knotted simulated pearls can often look just like the real thing and high quality gold plating will not tarnish if properly cared for. Look for Rolled Gold or Gold Filled. Sterling silver costume is undervalued at this time, so you can really find some great values. Large sterling or vermeil brooches from the 1940s always make a stunning statement. Since vintage costume has become so popular there are lots of informative books on the market. Three that I like Warman's Jewelry by Christie Romero (fine jewelry and costume guide), Costume Jewelry by Judith Miller and Collectible Costume Jewelry by Cherri Simonds.

Til next time, Best to you Melody


  1. Hello, I'm leaving you a comment because you have the most lovely blog. Fantastic writing and I love your pics as well. Best wishes !

  2. What a lovely ode to costume jewelry. I fancy such pieces a lot myself, but due to a severe nickel allergy, often have to avoid those containing inexpensive/mixed metals. Luckily though a lot of mid-century pieces were made of plastics and other metal-free materials, which means I'm still able to pursue my own love of vintage costume jewelry.

    Wishing you a beautiful Monday & week ahead!
    ♥ Jessica